Driver Age CDL

Some Good News on Expanding the Driving Pool

Pilot program is launched, lowering age drivers can obtain a CDL and drive across state lines

The COVID-19 pandemic shone the spotlight on growing labor shortages across the economy. While most of the media attention focused on retailers, restaurants, and other service industries, the reality is that the staff shortage has affected nearly every industry, and trucking—already suffering from a lack of drivers—has been particularly hard hit.

Truck drivers move over 70% of U.S. goods across the country. Driver shortages have a direct impact on our economy, leading to bottlenecks, delays, and scarce shelves…and the problem is worsening.

According to the American Trucking Associations, the industry faces a current driver shortfall of 80,000, even as COVID-19 challenges pushed freight to historic highs. Overall, the trucking industry lost 6% of its workers since the pandemic began and exacerbated the turnover crisis, with some companies experiencing 150% attrition. Recruiting and retention issues could raise the driver shortage to truly dangerous levels, with experts warning the shortfall could increase to 160,000 drivers by 2030, and the need to add 1 million new drivers over the next 10 years.

New Apprenticeship Program Could Train Thousands of Drivers

The good news is one potential reform addressing the issue received the green light, potentially developing a new pipeline of skilled drivers across the country.

Tucked within the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan passed last year is a pilot program allowing qualified 18- to 20-year-old drivers to not only obtain their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), but to also begin driving cargo across state lines. Under current law in 49 states, plus the District of Columbia (Hawaii stands alone), drivers under 21 can obtain a CDL but are limited to working only intrastate.

The new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) apprenticeship pilot program is intended to train thousands of new drivers. Under the apprenticeship, these younger drivers will be able to cross state lines during their 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods, as long as an experienced driver is on board.

Vehicles used in the program are required to have an electronic braking crash mitigation system, a forward-facing video camera, and cannot exceed 65 mph.

Ensuring Safety Is Paramount

To complete the probationary period, the trucking company must ensure the younger driver is sufficiently trained in each of the following areas:

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Backing and maneuvering in close quarters
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Pre-trip inspections
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Trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation, and permits
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Fueling procedures
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Weighing loads, weight distribution, and sliding tandems
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Coupling and uncoupling procedure

Drivers then have to be monitored until they are 21, and only carriers with excellent safety records are able to participate in the program. Apprentices would not be allowed to operate vehicles transporting passengers or hazmat.

Trade groups, including ATA, believe the pilot program can kick-start the industry. It will introduce drivers to the workforce earlier, provide greater training and oversight, improve safety, and reduce turnover within the industry.

To see if your business qualifies for the FMCSA’s Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, click here.

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